Teens Who Allegedly Started Fire to Be Held Four More Days, Haifa Court Rules

The two teenage brothers suspected of accidentally starting the massive fire in the Carmel that began Thursday will be held in custody for four more days, the Haifa Magistrate's Court ruled yesterday.

Police are investigating whether the minors, aged 14 and 16, were smoking a nargila water pipe whose coals may have set a nearby pile of trash alight. Another possibility being investigated is whether the teens purposely set fire to the trash, which was near their home.

fire - Yaron Kaminsky - December 6 2010
Yaron Kaminsky

They were arrested Saturday on suspicion that the fire began due to their negligence.

Relatives of the brothers' said the boys had nothing to do with starting the fire, and have appealed the ruling of the Magistrate's Court. The hearing will take place this morning at the Haifa District Court.

"They're framing my kids, and I won't allow that," the teens' father said yesterday. "My children slept at home. Their friends came over and told them about the fire and, like everyone else, they went out to see it. The children and I helped fight the fire. They are innocent."

Police officials said yesterday that they had evidence on which to base their suspicions, but would not provide any additional details, saying their investigation was still in its initial stages.

One of the suspects' aunts said that the brothers cried when they met with their father yesterday, for the first time in 24 hours. They had been questioned by police the night before.

"They're just young kids," she said. "They're traumatized and they didn't stop crying throughout the entire encounter."

The woman also questioned the evidence on which the police are holding her nephews.

"Since yesterday, we've all been on the edge of collapse, both physically and emotionally," she added. "We don't smoke nargila, and no one lit a bonfire. On what basis are they accusing them? Did other children tattle on them?"

Defense attorney Wisam Araf said the police did not have sufficient reason to detain his clients. "There is no reasonable suspicion that justifies extending the remand in this case," he said.

Araf said one of the brothers told police he was asleep when the fire broke out and woke up only when two of his friends came to tell him about it. He said police could have asked witnesses to verify this story within a few hours.

The people who should really be blamed for the fire, said Araf, are the public figures responsible for Israel's failure to fight wildfires effectively.

"Even if it's proven that there was negligence here on the part of the suspects, they cannot be accused of this national failure - the likes of which have never been seen in the history of the state," he said.